Townships in South Africa

During apartheid, Black South Africans were forced out of towns into townships to segregate them and control their movements in and out of the towns. Even though apartheid officially ended in 1994, many Black South Africans still live in these townships. 

In the township of Zwelethemba, about 2 hours outside of Cape Town near Worcester, I lived with the Sithole family in a 2 bedroom home. The family, comprised of my mama, Ester, my host brothers Musa-24 and Justice-23, and 2 host sisters, Kuhle-10 and Anesa-5, spoke Xhosa – a click language.

South Africa has like a billion official languages (11), and Xhosa and English are among them.

Even though I knew about 10 Xhosa words, I tried to introduce myself in Xhosa. Great decision on my part, because my momma Ester had a fab time laughing at my attempts. I reverted to English to try to redeem myself, but it was too late. After a short introduction, we sat down to eat dinner. First thing that I noticed was that our family didn’t eat with us – us meaning Cristy (my homestay partner) and I. Second thing, CHICKEN. Yes. Of course, there was more than meets the eye. 

Our family devotes their lives to God. Interestingly, and I guess pretty ironic as well, Cristy and I are towards the opposite side of the religion spectrum. Once we sat down to speak to our brothers, it wasn’t even 5 minutes before religion entered the conversation. Most of the discourse surrounded practice and salvation. Although we spent less than two weeks with the Sithole family, I felt very much a part of their everyday lives; we even attended church with them – that’s a whole other story. 

Our family had much to say about other topics as well. Musa, my older brother, spoke to Cristy and me about race, sexuality, poverty, HIV/AIDS, TB, traditional medicine, and upward mobility – issues that impact Zwelethemba daily. Some of these made its way into our case studies – mine being Maternal and Child Health and Cristy’s being on Infectious Diseases. These observations will be saved for another post. 

It’s crazy how comfortable one can get within a week.


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